by Mariana Furneri
I’ve always heard that working in the legal field is very different from law school. I’ve been told that it is typical for new lawyers, interns, and volunteers to learn on the job. While I can’t deny that there is some truth to this (especially with regards to the typical tasks and weekly agendas of a student compared to an employee), I can’t help but reflect on how much I’ve been relying on both the substantive material and soft skills that I’ve learned in my last two years in law school.
The most vital course for my internship with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has got to be Judicial Institutions and Civil Procedure (JICP). In my time with the CCLA’s Fundamental Freedom branch, I have had the privilege to work on a file with one of the CCLA directors and two partners from the Litigation department of one of Canada’s biggest Bay Street law firms working with us on a pro-bono basis. The CCLA is currently seeking a motion for leave to intervene on a case at the Ontario Court of Justice, and we had to follow a specific timeline to file our affidavit and factum to the presiding judge. In every meeting that my supervising director and I had with our pro-bono counsel, I knew exactly what was going on. I don’t think that this would have been the case without having JICP in my second year of law school. In all honesty, it made me wonder how JICP isn’t a mandatory course in 1L. I remember being a first year student and wondering about procedural aspects of cases that we’d be assigned to read in our contracts and torts classes, but I couldn’t imagine how much more I’d be wondering during this internship if I didn’t have JICP under my belt.
I was tasked with writing a blog post to inform the general public about the case, and with the weightier task of preparing a legal memo on the right to protest, freedom of expression, and protesting in online spaces. While I admittedly could have completed the legal memo without understanding the intricacies of civil procedure, my experience would not have been as fulfilling or holistic if I were not able to understand where my work fit into the litigation puzzle. This made it all the more satisfying when I saw significant excerpts from my legal memo featured in the final draft of the factum.
Constitutional law was also central to this case, as it heavily involved the implication of Charter rights. While the dispute at hand was in fact between two private actors and did not involve government action (meaning that the Charter was not directly applicable), my research found that “courts should still develop the common law with charter values in mind” and that “freedom of expression is entrained quite apart from the charter.” An understanding of constitutional law was essential in shaping this aspect of my legal memo and guiding my research.
Surprisingly, I even drew from things I learned in my 2L property class. Along with three of my classmates, we wrote an essay on the socio-legal dimensions of the evictions of unhoused communities’ tent encampments in city parks. The research we conducted for this final assignment gave me knowledge of case law surrounding access to public property, which informed my research for access to public property for the specific purpose of protesting. I argued that online spaces are intimately connected to physical spaces as sites of protest and that online activism fosters democracy and free expression, therefore making online protest worthy of constitutional protection by Canadian courts.
Ultimately, I’m extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to apply the things I’ve learned in the classroom to my internship. This summer has made me especially excited to all that I still have left to learn in my last 3 semesters of law school.